Nigeria braces for presidential vote amidst ramped-up violence, terror

NIGERIANS will be going to the polls on Feb. 23, 2019 to elect a President, Members of Parliament and other government officials. Parts of the country have continued to experience jihadist violence by Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province. Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, Nigeria, a former president of the country’s bishops’ conference reflects on what is at stake for the Church and the country at large.

Like every pre-election period everywhere in the world, emotions are running high. It appears that many politicians pursue self-interest more than service to the common good. And there has been some violence. How do you see the situation?

Aid to the Church in Need supports suffering and persecuted faithful around the world, including in Nigeria, which is holding presidential elections, with many Christians remaining concerned about their security
Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama

While a few political rallies have already recorded a few accidental deaths and the disruption of peace, we must commend the campaigns of most of the parties that have carried out their activities peacefully. There is however a general tension and apprehension as to what may be the likely reactions of those who already feel that there might be manipulations of the elections.

Attacks by Boko Haram have intensified lately. Do you think this is connected to the elections?

Even before now, Boko Haram has intensified its attacks by killing military personnel. The insurgents have become so daring as to take on armed personnel and to inflict heavy casualties on them and not even sparing international aid workers. They boldly warn the international community to stay off their track. They are doing their best to take over certain parts of Nigeria and neighboring countries to consolidate their quest for the Islamic State of West Africa.

Some people say that the renewed attacks are politically-motivated or that they may be an attempt to disenfranchise some of the electorate. It is clear however that Boko Haram wants to make a statement that it has not been defeated. The threat from Boko Haram is still real. They are far from being defeated.

Are you worried?

I should be concerned. When peace is disrupted, Catholic religious leaders suffer more than those elected into government because people flock to our houses and offices knowing that there are no gun-wielding police or soldiers to scare them off or police dogs to sniff and bark at them when they come to ask for help for the basic things of life.  We have to manage to assist those who are displaced and without means of livelihood.

If the elections are marred by violence many innocent Nigerians will pay the prize.  I hope for fair, peaceful and credible elections; for good, patriotic, selfless and God-fearing leaders to emerge, who will be more concerned about the masses rather than their personal ambition and luxury of office.  Well-formed and qualified youths are on the streets in huge numbers without jobs. We hope that those aspiring to offices at all levels will consider the plight of our youth as a priority.

What role is the Church playing to contribute to the proper conduct of elections?

As the Catholic Church in Nigeria makes sure for every election, our Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC) is proactive and highly sensitive to the need for peaceful and fair elections. The JDPC has served creditably as election monitors/observers in the past, pointing out flaws, weaknesses as well as strength. It will monitor these elections too. A statement has recently been issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria encouraging prayers, calling for free and affair elections and the proper attitude of all citizens.

As priests, we encourage our people to be prayerful and alert during this season; we caution ourselves, the clergy, to remain non-partisan. Our Justice, Peace and Development Commission is helping inform local communities about their political interests. We are also prepared to intervene and manage post-election violence should it occur. We pray it doesn’t.

What are your hopes for Nigeria?

I am a strong optimist. I believe strongly that the best for Nigeria lies somewhere close by. I am deeply patriotic about my country Nigeria. There are so many negative things said about Nigeria but I believe that Nigeria with all her defects and imperfections will surprise the world one day, leaving those who ridicule and write her off spell-bound and flabbergasted. Nigerians are a peaceful, joyful, hardworking, religious and resilient people who are only unfortunate not to have selfless leaders with vision but leaders who take joy in pilfering the enormous wealth God has blessed us with. This, they do with the collaboration of some foreign countries, companies, organizations and individuals.

Many like me believe that Nigeria will survive as one nation and one people. The time is coming nearer when a moral revolution by the youths, transcending tribe and religion, will bring into leadership only serious persons who are prepared to suffer and even lay down their lives for Nigeria and Nigerians rather than asking the poor people to die for their political leaders Those who manipulate elections, buy votes, use government structures to win elections, announce losers as winners and winners as losers will sooner than later have nowhere to hide.

—Grace Attu